The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2018

by Project Censored

Posted In: News, ,   From Issue 875   By: Robert E Martin

20th February, 2019     0

By Project Censored

Fake news is not a new thing. With the return of its annual list of censored stories in Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored's vivid cover art recalls H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds; and the situation today may feel as desolate as the cover art suggests.

The cover art theme works at two levels, as the editors explain, which makes things more complex than they might appear at first glance. First, the famous Orson Wells radio broadcast of War of the Worlds on Oct. 30, 1938 used a number of dramatic devices to present the drama as though it were an actual crisis in progress. It became an example of the potential power of fake news in the radio media era.

The investigative research team Project Censored, which sprang out of a journalism workshop at Sonoma State University, defines censorship as “anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society that purports to uphold free press principles.” Sponsored by the Media Freedom Foundation every year since 1976, the Project selects the 25 “most censored stories” on the planet; and every year since 1985 The Review has published their findings, which we are doing again this year in two installments, listed democratically in order of importance according to the Project’s judges.

"Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news," editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observe in the book's introduction. In the end, they argue that "critical media education — rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers, or legislative bans — is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion."

Through it all, the list of censored stories remains central to Project Censored's mission, which, the editors point out, can be read in two different ways: "as a critique of the shortcomings of U.S. corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories, or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues."

#6) Russiagate • Two-headed Monster of Propaganda & Censorship

Is Russiagate a censored story? What is disturbing about this is that it seems to reflect a well-intentioned effort to critically examine fake news-related issues within a "censored story" framework. It's important that these issues be raised, which is one reason Project Censored added "fake news" as a new analytical category to examine annually along with its censored stories list, "junk food news," and "news abuse."

What Project Censored calls attention to is important: "Corporate media coverage of Russiagate has created a two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. By saturating news coverage with a sensationalized narrative, Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories." What's involved is too complex to simply be labeled "propaganda." On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is a classic, well-defined Project Censored story, which suffers from the attempt to fit both together.

In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show from February 20 to March 31, 2017, which found that "Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts." Maté wrote: "Maddow's Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump's escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump's Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent)."

Well and good. But is this propaganda? At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote:  "As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia's purported 'attack on our democracy' that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering, and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together."

Also true. But not so much propaganda as Project Censored's broader category of "news abuse," which includes propaganda and spin, among other forms of "distraction to direct our attention away from what we really need to know." To fully grasp what's involved requires a more complex analysis. On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is far more clear-cut and straightforward.

In a report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Robin Andersen examined Russiagate-inspired censorship moves by Twitter, Google, Facebook and others. A key initial target was RT.

"RT's reporting bears striking similarities to alternative and independent media content, and that is why letting the charges against RT stand unexamined is so dangerous," Andersen noted.

In fact, the government's intelligence report on RT included its reporting on the dangers of fracking as part of its suspect activity. Beyond that, the spill-over suppression was dramatic: "Yet in the battle against fake news, much of the best, most accurate independent reporting is disappearing from Google searches," Anderson said. "The World Socialist Web Site reported that Google's new search protocol is restricting access to leading independent, left-wing, progressive, anti-war, and democratic rights websites. The estimated declines in traffic generated by Google searches for news sites are striking."

There were declines for AlterNet.org (63 percent), DemocracyNow.org (36 percent), CounterPunch.org (21 percent), ConsortiumNews.com (47 percent), MediaMatters.org (42 percent), and TheIntercept.com (19 percent), among others.

On top of that, in Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi pointed to much broader stifling of alternative views.  "Two years ago, remember, the American political establishment was on the ropes," Taibbi wrote. "From Trump to Bernie Sanders to Brexit to Catalonia, voter repudiation of the status quo was the story of the day. The sense of panic among political elites was palpable.  Two years later, the narrative has completely shifted. By an extraordinary coincidence, virtually all the "anti-system" movements and candidates that so terrified the political establishment have since been identified as covert or overt Russian destabilization initiatives.  We've jumped straight past debating the efficacy of democracy to just reflexively identifying most anti-establishment sentiment as illegitimate, treasonous, and foreign in nature," Taibbi wrote.

"Many people suffer when lies are reported as facts, but it seems that corporate media are the only ones that profit when they reinforce blind hostility — against not only Russia but also legitimate domestic dissent," Project Censored noted.

#7) Regenerative Agriculture as the  'Next Stage' of Civilization

The world's agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon loss to the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science, actually reversing the processes driving global warming.

A set of practices known as "regenerative agriculture" could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in May 2017.

"For thousands of years we grew food by depleting soil carbon and, in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well," food and farming writer Michael Polin wrote. "But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil."

Cummins, who's also a founding member of Regeneration International, wrote that regenerative agriculture offers a "world-changing paradigm" that can help solve many of today's environmental and public health problems. As The Guardian explained:

"Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: It stops soil erosion, remineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater, and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff."

"We can't really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis," Cummings wrote. "We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100 percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible."

In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved.

"Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing," Cummins wrote. "Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world's food on just 25 percent of the world's acreage, struggle to make ends meet. The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world's 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers, and herders with several billion health, environmental, and justice-minded consumers to overturn 'business as usual' and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity, and regeneration."

If you've never heard of it before, don't be surprised.  "Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in The New York Times Magazine and Salon," Project Censored wrote.

#8)  Congress Passes Intrusive Data Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill

On March 21, House Republicans released a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. It passed both houses and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent "must-pass" legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.

"The CLOUD Act enables the U.S. government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations' data privacy laws and without the need for warrants," Project Censored summarized. It also significantly weakens protections against foreign government actions.

"It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate," the Electronic Frontier Foundation's David Ruiz wrote. "It never received a hearing. ... It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this unvetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill." Congressional leadership failed to listen to citizen concerns, Ruiz wrote, with devastating consequences:

"Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy, and human rights," concluded Greene Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.

"The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it," Project Censored noted. "[A glowing Washington Post op-ed] made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens' personal data, [and a CNET report that] highlighted the liberties that the CLOUD Act would provide corporations by simplifying legal issues concerning overseas servers."

Because of this failure, U.S. laws will be bypassed on U.S. soil. Greene noted that the CLOUD Act negates protections of two interrelated existing laws. It creates an exception to the Stored Communications Act that allows certified foreign governments to request personal data directly from U.S. companies.

"While the bill sponsors did try to address some of the concerns that have been raised, the improvements are not enough to shift the balance so that the CLOUD Act will be a boon, rather than a threat, to privacy and human rights," Greene concluded.

#9) Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature

In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers their ancestor, as a living entity with rights.

The Guardian reported it as "a world-first," although the surrounding Te Urewera National Park had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, expressed in a dissent by Justice William O. Douglas. In addition, the broader idea of 'rights of nature' has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia, and some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.

The tribe's perspective was explained to The Guardian by its lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert. "We consider the river an ancestor and always have," Albert said. "We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management."

But that could be just the beginning. "It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world," Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine. Others are advancing this perspective, DeVault wrote: "In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.  If the New Zealand Whanganui River settlement] was able to correct the gap in Western and indigenous paradigms in New Zealand, surely a similar effort to protect the Missouri River could be produced for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River nations by the American government.”

"A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India," Project Censored noted. "However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States."

#10) FBI Racially Profiling 'Black Identity Extremists

At the same time that white supremacists were preparing for the "Unite the Right" demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017, the FBI's counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different — though actually non-existent — threat "Black Identity Extremists." The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story.

"But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists," Foreign Policy reported.  "The use of terms like 'black identity extremists' is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists," said former FBI agent Mike German, who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice. "Basically, it's black people who scare them."

"It's classic Hoover-style labeling with a little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together," said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of black writers. "The language — black identity extremist — strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover's past."

"There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising," Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson told Foreign Policy.  "The corporate media [has] covered the FBI report on 'black identity extremists' in narrow or misleading ways," Project Censored noted, citing examples from The New York Times, Fox News, and NBC News. "Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrives."

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